If you’re curious to dip your toes into the world of hotel loyalty programs, it can seem a little overwhelming at first. Even the names can throw some people. Accor ‘Live Limitless’. Marriott ‘Bonvoy’. ‘World’ of Hyatt. But let’s get past the lifestyle names and into the reality.

If you’re staying at a hotel, chances are you can earn points somewhere. For smaller boutique properties, that might just be third-party booking sites like Qantas Hotels. For larger brands, though, you might be able to earn points directly with the chain.

But how many hotel loyalty programs should you sign up for? Should you join them all or just one? Personally, as a frequent traveller, I tend to have accounts with all of the major chains. So much of my travel pop up at the last minute, and knowing I can book, be rewarded and be done keeps things simple for me.

Chances are, though, your travels aren’t quite as hectic. So rather than going on a sign-up spree (and getting a lot of email newsletters in the process…), sharpen your thinking a little bit. Consider where you typically stay – and where you’re likely to stay – as a starter. Then, consider why you might sign up.

After all, what’s the use of staying with Hilton all year but only signing up for Shangri-La’s loyalty program? The ‘best’ program for each person will vary wildly depending on their travel habits. So rather than naming a ‘best’ or listing programs you must join, let’s consider why you might sign up – and you’ll be ready to find your very own ‘best’.

Join a hotel loyalty program when you’ll stay more than once

Loyalty is the name of the game – and hotels want to drive repeat business. So, if you might ever stay with a particular chain more than once, why not sign up for that chain’s loyalty program?

Your first stay could very well earn you points to spend during your next stay. I’ve yet to encounter a hotel loyalty program that charges for membership in its core program. Sign up, be prepared, and you’ll be ready to earn points.

This strategy really comes in handy for business travellers too – especially those who don’t arrange their own hotel. Rather than learning about the program at the hotel’s front desk, having a membership number ready to hand over means saving time and getting to your room faster. And, of course, those behind you in the queue will thank you!

But despite all this, consider your game plan if you’ll only ever stay with a hotel brand once. Rather than signing up for a new program and earning a few points in a strange new account, you might prefer to consolidate things. For instance, you can earn Qantas Points by booking accommodation through Qantas Hotels. Or earn Velocity Points via Rocket Travel. For a one-off stay, frequent flyer points might be more useful than having a few points here and a few points there.

Sign-up to get benefits from the get-go

No doubt, hotels keep the best perks for those who travel and stay often. But merely signing up for a program – for free – can sometimes get you some valuable perks.

Want to connect to hotel Wi-Fi? Okay, we’d agree that this should always be free. It’s 2024, after all. For members of programs like Accor Live Limitless, GHA Discovery, Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy, it comes as an entry-level perk.

How about discounts on dining? The new Brilliant by Langham program offers 5% savings at participating restaurants and bars just for being a member. With Radisson Rewards, the saving is 10%. And through Shangri-La Circle, members can receive a complimentary meal for children aged six and below, when an adult dines with them.

In fact, Radisson even allows Radisson Rewards members to use a dedicated priority line at hotel check-in and check-out. This applies regardless of the member’s tier.

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Join when you’ll qualify for benefits in that hotel program

Here’s a time when it makes sense to join a hotel loyalty program even without a stay planned. Sometimes, you might be eligible for a bump to elite status in a hotel’s program. This could be a benefit of your credit card, frequent flyer status or other travel membership.

For example, the American Express Platinum Card comes with Hilton Honors Gold, Marriott Bonvoy Gold and Radisson Rewards Premium status. For the primary Amex Platinum cardholder, there’s also a complimentary Accor Plus membership – which in itself carries a bump to Accor Live Limitless Silver.

Are you a Virgin Australia Velocity Gold member? You can opt for a year of Hilton Honors Gold or IHG One Rewards Gold Elite. Or if you’re Velocity Platinum, take that to the next level with Hilton Honors Diamond or IHG One Rewards Platinum Elite. But be aware that with Velocity, the bump is a one-time deal. You’ll need to retain that status the old-fashioned way after the first year is over, even if you renew your Velocity level.

Qantas Frequent Flyer members with Silver status or higher can also fast-track their status with Accor. Get ALL Silver after linking your Qantas and Accor accounts and completing one eligible stay. An ALL Silver fast-track is also available to Qantas Points Club Plus members after two eligible stays.

These various linkups don’t all happen instantly. So especially for the status levels that are renewed perpetually, such as from Amex, you may as well enrol at the first opportunity. That way, you’ll be all set up and ready to roll when you need that card: especially if you book travels at short notice.

Sign up for the main program when subscribing to a paid club

Some hotel chains offer membership subscription packages that travellers can purchase. For instance Accor has Accor Plus – which we’ve talked about above. And while it comes as a benefit of the Amex Platinum Card, it also can be purchased outright.

That Accor Plus membership needs to be paired with an Accor Live Limitless account. After all, one of its key benefits is a minimum Silver status in that program. So if you plan to join Accor Plus, sign up to Accor Live Limitless first and make things easy for yourself.

The similar InterContinental Ambassador program is tied to IHG One Rewards. Although Ambassador is mainly recognised for benefits at properties branded InterContinental, it also bestows IHG One Rewards Platinum Elite status. You’ll either need to pair Ambassador with an existing IHG One Rewards account or create one when subscribing.

See if a hotel loyalty program works with a third-party booking

As you might have guessed from our first point, many hotel chains have an important restriction. If you want to earn points with that hotel and receive the benefits of its program, you need to book directly with them. That means most of the time, bookings through the likes of Qantas Hotels don’t qualify for an extra stash of rewards through the hotel itself.

But sometimes, there are exceptions: and Radisson Rewards is one such program. Now, third-party stays don’t earn points with Radisson. But Radisson does still credit your rewards account with the nights from the stay, helping you gain or retain status. You also remain eligible for the benefits of that status when you’ve booked through another channel.

As a (mid-tier) Radisson Rewards Premium member, I’ve found this quite handy. Book Radisson through Qantas Hotels to earn points of much greater value than those offered in Radisson’s own program. But then, mention my membership number as a comment on the Qantas booking notes – and just like magic, it all gets linked up. I earn my points with Qantas and get credited for my nights with Radisson. It’s a winner all around.

Also read: How to book a hotel room just for the day

Feature image courtesy Cottonbro/Pexels.

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Which hotel loyalty programs should you join? was last modified: May 2nd, 2024 by Chris Chamberlin